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The effect of variations in Neisseria meningitidis pili on bacterial interactions with three epithelial cell lines as well as human umbilical vein endothelial cells was studied using a panel of seven strains expressing Class I or Class II pili. Comparison of adherence of piliated and pilus-deficient variants of each strain to epithelial cells suggested that Class I pili may mediate bacterial adherence with all three epithelial cell lines. In contrast, Class II pili of the strains used did not increase bacterial adherence to Hep-2 larynx carcinoma cells, although an increase in adherence to Chang conjunctival and A549 lung carcinoma epithelial cells was observed in the Class II pili-expressing strains. In addition to these interclass functional variations, differences in adherence to epithelial cells were also observed among Class I and Class II strains. Functionally different pilin variants of one Class I strain, MC58, were obtained by single colony isolation. One piliated variant was identified which had concurrently lost the ability to adhere to both Chang and Hep-2 cells ('non-adherent' phenotype; adherence of less than 2 bacteria per cell). In addition, several adherent pilin variants were isolated from non-adherent Pil- and Pil+ bacteria by selection on Chang cells (adherence of 10-25 bacteria per cell). In contrast to epithelial cells, all variant pili, whether of Class I or Class II, adhered to endothelial cells in substantially larger numbers (greater than 50 bacteria per cell) and therefore implied the existence of distinct mechanisms in pilus-facilitated interactions of N. meningitidis with endothelial and epithelial cells.


Journal article


Mol Microbiol

Publication Date





1271 - 1279


Bacterial Adhesion, Bacterial Outer Membrane Proteins, Cells, Cultured, Endothelium, Vascular, Epithelial Cells, Epithelium, Fimbriae Proteins, Fimbriae, Bacterial, Humans, Neisseria meningitidis, Phenotype, Species Specificity, Tumor Cells, Cultured, Umbilical Veins